Interviews & Opinion

Why developers are using Discord to market their games

Why developers are using Discord to market their games

To say that games communication app Discord has had a massive start to life would be a colossal understatement.

In just three years, the San Francisco-based firm has racked up a massive 130m users - as of May 2018 - a figure that has risen by three times in the prior twelve months.

As well as being a way for consumers to communicate in-game, the platform has become a way for developers to market their games. CEO Jason Citron said earlier this year that the community aspect of the platform was not an intentional feature, but is one that he welcomes.

Speaking to, No More Robots founder Mike Rose says that the users on Discord are likely interested in video games - or porn to be fair - which is definitely a useful aspect for an audience to have in this space. Also, them simply being in the server for one of this games shows a level of dedication that means it's likely they will splash some cash on his games.

"It's literally just this platform with millions of people on it who we know are all into video games," he explains.

"How much effort is it to sign up to a Discord account, explore what the service is and joined the Discord servers of specific games? To have done that in the first place, you've got to have be the kind of person who engages with stuff in the first place, and you've got to have an actual interest in that game to join that server and then stick around and keep it in your list of Discord servers. You can join as many as you want, but you've only really got space for about five or six, ten depending on how big your screen is. For someone to be in my Discord server, they - in the first place - must be a potential person who is going to buy my game. They must be. If I add a bunch of people to a mailing list or they're following me on Twitter, they might have no interest in engaging with me or buying my games. They might just have followed or signed up on a whim - it could be any reason.

"If they've signed up to my Discord, it's clear that they have an interest in the game and potentially buying it. It's just all about having this laser focus on these people who I am probably going to be interested in. Once I have them all in one place, I can work out ways to engage them and I can work out real ways to try and keep them excited and interested and make them do all kinds of horrible metagames that destroy their brands and stuff."

These metagames started off simple - for Descenders Rose had different teams competing on the game. But things have gone a bit more, um, interesting with subsequent games. The server for anti-Brexit game Not Tonight has its own government and recently voted on the price of game. With Hypnospace, users can turn the server into a 90s internet hellspace.

"I message the developer all the time going: 'What the fuck am I doing? What is wrong with me?'," Rose laughs.

"With the Hypnospace Discord, you join it and you can go on a search engine and join web pages and make your own web page. When you create a web page it creates a channel and then you can fill it with gifs and make a Geocities page and all the people can join it. It says how many people are viewing your page and that kind of stuff. The Hypnospace one is nice because it runs itself. I have set it up in such a way that it's literally just running itself. I have a lovely group of mods that I picked up from Descenders who will just follow me anywhere now who are always there to make sure stuff isn't exploding. Discord has been very good for me."

If someone has signed up to my Discord, it's clear that they have an interest in the game and potentially buying it. It's just all about having this laser focus on these people
Mike Rose, No More Robots

Another games firm that has doubled down on the platform is Slingshot Cartel, a development studio founded in late 2016 by vets of Guitar Hero Live outfit FreeStyle games Jamie Jackson, David Osbourn, Jonathan Napier and Gareth Morrison. The firm has been using it to help with the push for its debut game, The DRG Initiative.

This company has been using Discord mainly as it is the market leader when it comes to games communication.

"I keep abreast of all the different services out there. There's Curse, there's Discord and Steam has just released a similar feature set. 18 months ago, we were trying to make a pick really for which technology solution we should go for. We looked at Curse and Discord in parallel. I pushed Discord because that's what I knew from my friends and when I'm playing online I felt that was the market leader," Napier says.

"Again, 18 months it was the market leader in terms of users. We discussed it internally and I asked my friends who play games a lot what they'd use give the choice because it is the most popular. We thought we'd do that. It was a tentative choice at the time but then we started them introducing their game bridge SDK. There's a bunch of them and they're perfect. The Rich Presence one is ideal - the fact that we can have a game going and two players might have a spare slot in their team and you can see that in Discord and jump straight in. That sort of stuff is wonderful functionality for us. We felt that was the most feature-rich offering. Also, I just personally like the software. I think they've done a good job with the way they're developing it. And they're developing more quickly than the other offerings out there in the marketplace. It'll be very interesting to see how it goes."

Osbourn says that using it as a marketing tool came naturally - people were already using Discord to communicate with them, so why not use it to push the game?

"Putting it front and centre in the marketing was a natural thing to do," he explains.

"People were using to talk to us so we naturally gravitated towards it. They send us ideas, give us feedback - say a character is unbalanced or something - so we've ended up having a direct communication with the players. All of a sudden, it's suddenly your central marketing tool. It decides it for you almost just by the fact that everyone is using Discord in that way. It's just the way it is. It's worked out really well for us. I guess other people are finding the same thing."

The fact that Discord keeps adding to its offering - with features like Verified Servers and Rich Presence - means that Slingshot Cartel is keeping an eye on the platform and trying to make the most of whatever new offerings roll out.

"I'm currently keeping a close eye on Discord's roadmap when the team is making new announcements," Napier says.

"Discord now has its Games Tab where it shows you what your group of friends are playing. It looks really good. There's a thing where we can be quite nimble and keep up to date and make the best use of these new features as they come along. We're going to continue to do that."

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.